All posts by Eric Zweig

Remembering Roy

I wasn’t going to write about Roy Halladay. After all the tributes to him I’ve read since his death was confirmed late Tuesday afternoon, I didn’t really think I had anything to say. I’d already had a story in mind for today, but it didn’t feel right to write about something and not to mention Halladay at all. Or to just tack on a word of condolence to a different story. So, allow me a few moments to share some thoughts.

As many of you know, my entire family has been huge Blue Jays fans from the very beginning. We’ve had seasons tickets since the moment they went on sale prior to the first season in 1977. I worked on the ground crew for five years from 1981 to 1985 when the team literally went from worst to first, and although I don’t get to more than a game or two most seasons these days, I still watch or listen almost every day. The Blue Jays have meant a lot to me over the years. Probably more than they should.

Strange thing is, I’ve never been a “favourite player” type of guy. I like the team; I like the game; I like being a fan … but I’ve never had a jersey for the Blue Jays or the Maple Leafs with a name and a number on the back. That’s just not me. If forced to pick, I’d agree with the general consensus that Roberto Alomar was the best Blue Jay ever. But my own personal favourite would be a toss up between Dave Stieb and Roy Halladay. I do like good pitching.

Me
Roy Halladay posed for this picture with me at Spring Training circa 2006.

I was there on the final day of the 1998 season when Halladay had a no-hitter broken up with two out in the ninth inning of his second career start. (I read in a newspaper yesterday that it was a perfect game, but although Halladay hadn’t walked anyone, second baseman Felipe Crespo had made an error in the fifth inning to allow a baserunner.) It was an exciting game, but I can’t honestly say that I felt like I was watching the birth of baseball’s next great pitcher.

And, indeed, Halladay struggled until pitching coach Mel Queen famously helped him to overhaul his mechanics and his mental approach to the game when he was sent back to the minors after spring training in 2001. When Halladay returned to Toronto that July, he struggled briefly … and then was brilliant. He had only a 5-3 record that season, but his 3.16 ERA was impressive and I remember clearly believing that he should have won at least eight games, not just five.

From then on, Halladay was the player I wanted to see. I admired his skill, and I admired his dedication. If I didn’t have access to our family’s season tickets (and we were sharing them around pretty widely by those years), I’d still happily pay for a cheap seat to get into the park when Halladay was pitching.

Ball
My mother-in-law had the picture reproduced on a ball, which Halladay signed the next year.

I remember late in the 2003 season. The Jays weren’t horrible that year, but were hopelessly behind the Yankees and Red Sox (as they always were in those day!) and not in contention for the wild card either. Now a Cy Young favourite, Halladay had won his 20th and 21st games on the road, and was pitching back at home on a Monday night, September 23. I wanted to be there to see him win his 22nd game and set a new team record. I took our daughter Amanda and bought a pair of seats, the two of us sitting among a fairly sparse crowd of just under 23,000 people in the 50,000-seat stadium.

There had a been a bit of bad blood recently between the Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Devils Rays, and – apparently – warnings had been issued to both teams before the game, although no one had told Halladay. In the sixth inning, after giving up a lead-off homer to put the Jays down 1-0, followed by a single, the third batter was hit by pitch … and Halladay was ejected. The crowd was pretty angry. I was incensed!

“I don’t know where it came from,” Halladay said after the game. “But in … a 1-0 game and a man on base, that run is important to me. I’m just trying to get out of the inning, I can’t see why they would think I’m trying to hit someone.”

To make matters worse, reliever Dan Reichert (who?!?) promptly gave up a walk and two straight hits to allow both of Halladay’s base-runners to score. Yet another hit put us down 5-0. The Jays lost 5-2.

“Doc’s out there trying to win a Cy Young and he gets charged with three earned runs without having the chance to get them off the field,” said Jays GM J.P. Riccardi. “Maybe common sense could have been used, you know?”

I wasn’t there when Halladay won his 22nd game on the final Saturday of the season. And, of course, he did win the Cy Young Award that year.

Such was Halladay’s skill and dedication, that almost no one in Toronto held it against him when he asked to be traded to a contender after the 2009 season. My brothers and I often joke that when anyone gets traded away, “we wish them nothing but the worst” with their new team. Not Halladay. I was pleased to watch his success in Philadelphia at a distance, and thrilled to have been watching on television when he threw a no-hitter in his first postseason appearance in 2010. He was just that good.

Celebrity deaths don’t usually affect me, but the death of Roy Halladay has been hard.

Pictures and Publicity For My Latest Book

My newest book, the Toronto Maple Leafs: The Complete Oral History is in stores now. Here are a few images from our recent launch at The Sport Gallery in Toronto’s Distillery District…

 Launch
The cover of the book, and the front entrance to The Sport Gallery.

Launch 1
My brothers and I were suitably attired!

Launch 2
The author with his proud mother.

And from my signing at Manticore Books in Orillia.

Launch 3
The front window of a very charming book store.

Launch 4
Me with many of my books, both old and new.

If you’re up for even more, you can check out the recent column by Andrew Armitage in the Owen Sound Sun-Times or my in-studio interview with Bill Murdoch on CFOS in Owen Sound. I was on with him for the full hour, which was a lot of fun for me but if that’s too much Eric Zweig for you, you can check out this much shorter phone interview on CFOS with Fred Wallace.

And if you’re in the Owen Sound area, I hope you’ll join us at The Ginger Press on Wednesday November 22 at 7 pm for some hockey-and-book talk. Should be a fun evening! There’ll also be a signing at Book Lore in Orangeville beginning at 11 am on December 2.

Launching Books With World Series Winners

Just in case I haven’t hit you over the head with it enough times already, here’s another reminder that I have a new book that just came out. Hopefully we’ll see many of you this Saturday for the Toronto launch. Others, perhaps, may be able to stop by at upcoming events in Orillia, Owen Sound, and Orangeville. (And yes, it IS an odd coincidence that everything arranged so far is in an Ontario town that begin with O.)

2017

I’ve also got some new children’s books coming out a little later this month, which will push my official book count above 40. It all began 25 years ago right about now with the publication of my first book, Hockey Night in the Dominion of Canada. That capped a pretty amazing stretch of days for me and my family.

The fun began on October 24, 1992, when the Blue Jays won their first World Series … and Barbara and I made our first official appearance as a couple. (Belated happy anniversary, Greg and Anne!)

Jays

Anyone who knew my family then – and, let’s face it, knows my family now – knows we’re pretty crazy about the Blue Jays. The World Series celebration had barely subsided when, just a few days later, a box of books arrived at our family home…

92

…followed, just a few days after that, by our first launch party 25 years ago today.

Hockey Night

This time around, my teen-favourite Astros are going to game seven of the World Series against my mother’s childhood favourite Dodgers. It’s been an amazing series so far, but matter who wins, it won’t be the same for us as 1992. Still, it’ll be a fun time on Saturday. We look forward to seeing you.

 

Blue Monday

The World Series started last night. The Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Houston Astros 3-1 in the quickest World Series contest since Game 4 in 1992 … which happens to be the first Word Series game I ever attended. Yesterday also marked 25 years since the Blue Jays wrapped up the 1992 World Series in Game 6 in Atlanta. That will tie into a story I’m planning for next week. Today, I’m using the Los Angeles victory over Houston to reminisce about my visit to Montreal during the Dodgers-Expos National League Championship Series in 1981. But first, a bit of back-story…

Blue 1
YouTube clip showing the fateful moment of impact on Blue Monday.

As I’ve posted on Facebook a couple of times recently, teenaged me was an Astros fan. Among my gang of friends at the time, we all quickly came to love the expansion Blue Jays. My guess is, none of us (I know I wasn’t) had been big baseball fans before the Blue Jays started in 1977 … but very soon we needed pennant contenders to follow too. I suppose we also needed a reason to boast that “my team is better than your team!”

Blue 2
In case you’re wondering, I’m the one on the right!

I can’t say that it was a conscious choice to steer clear of the American League, but our “other” teams were all in the National League. David became a Pirates fan in 1978 when they made a late run to battle the Phillies in the NL East. By 1979, they were World Series champions, and David has remained a Pirates fan to this day. Steve became a fan of the San Francisco Giants in 1978. They battled the Dodgers for the NL West that summer, but faded down the stretch. Jody and Rob were Dodgers fans because, well … the Dodgers were the Dodgers. They were the best team in the National League and I think Rob and Jody both saw themselves living in Los Angeles some day. (Jody lives in San Diego now.)

I liked the Astros. Yes, the garish, colourful uniforms were part of it, but I liked J.R. Richard. He was 6’8”, threw 100 mile per hour, and he struck out 303 batters in 1978 and 313 in 1979. The funny thing is, I don’t remember a single game I ever saw him pitch! I never saw the Astros live, and there was only one Game of the Week on television, and Houston didn’t get many of those. I must have seen him on This Week in Baseball, and I clearly remember the photograph of him holding eight baseballs in one hand.

Blue 3

By 1981, we’re all huge baseball fans, and all of us – except Pirates fan David – also like the Expos. And, of course, Montreal is a lot closer to Toronto than Houston, San Francisco, or Los Angeles. I don’t remember which of us decided we should go, but Rob’s family had connections in Montreal and he could get us tickets for Saturday and Sunday. So off we went.

We were all in Grade 13 (a foreign concept, I know, to any Americans reading this, and even to any younger Canadians) but we skipped the day of school on Friday and piled into Steve’s car. I don’t remember much about the drive, except that as we got to the end, the fact that Pie IX is pronounced like “Pee-Neuve” led to some problems getting to Olympic Stadium. But we did get there and we picked up our tickets.

I don’t think any of us ever considered getting a hotel room. Rob’s family had friends that he and Jody stayed with, and I asked a cousin-in-law of mine if Steve and I could stay with relatives she still had in Montreal. No problems for Rob and Jody, but when Steve and I showed up, it was clear this family we were staying with had only been expecting me … and they certainly weren’t prepared to feed dinner to the two of us! Steve and I found somewhere cheap nearby, then met up with Rob and Jody so – even though only Steve and Jody were actually of legal drinking age – we could go downtown and watch the Friday game in a bar.

The Dodgers and Expos had split the first two games of the series in Los Angeles. The Expos won game three in Montreal that night 4-1 on the strength of a complete game pitching performance from Steve Rogers and a three-run homer in the bottom of the sixth by light-hitting Jerry White. I do remember the excitement in the bar … but what I remember even more was our waitress throwing back the change we had left her as a tip on our first round of drinks!

Blue 4

Game 4 was on Saturday afternoon. It was close, and tense … until the Dodgers blew it open with two runs in the eighth and four in the ninth for a 7-1 victory. It was cold and dank, but for me (and I’ve been to at least one postseason game every time the Blue Jays have made the playoffs) this was still the single best fan experience I’ve ever had at a game! The joint was jumpin’, and singing along to The Happy Wanderer (“Valder-ee, Valder-ah, Valder-EEEE, Valder-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah”) was a blast! Even the loss wasn’t so bad, because now we could be at the fifth and final game on Sunday.

Only it rained on Sunday, and the game was cancelled.

We’d already skipped school on Friday, so Jody, Rob and Steve decided we should go home. I was beyond angry. I don’t think I spoke a word to any of them for the first few hours on the drive back to Toronto. So, we weren’t there for Blue Monday when Rick Monday took Steve Rogers deep in the top of the ninth to give the Dodgers a 2-1 series-winning victory. Of course I watched it all on television … but when all is said and done, I think I’m glad I wasn’t there.

Toronto and Montreal: Forever Rivals

With the team off to a great start, invitations to the Toronto launch of my new book, The Toronto Maple Leafs: The Complete Oral History, went out by email earlier this week. If you didn’t receive one, and you’d like to come, I’d love to see you! A copy of the invitation is included at the end of this story.

The Leafs were pretty much at the worst of their recent struggles when I began working on this book. Still, the only real direction offered by my editor was “give me lots!” I took that pretty literally. We always knew that the book was going to be 10 chapters long, but when I finished the first draft of Chapter 1, I was already over 25,000 words! By the time all 10 chapters were complete, I delivered a manuscript of almost 170,000 words. We’re talking 100 years of history here, but clearly that was going to be too much. During the editorial process, we got it down to about 140,000 words. With pictures, that still came out to a book of 450 pages!

Some pretty interesting stories didn’t make the final cut. Here’s one, presented in the “oral” style of the book, highlighting the rough, early days of the Toronto-Montreal NHL rivalry:

1

Before Toronto qualified for the playoffs (by winning the second half of the split-season schedule), Charlie Querrie and George Kennedy of the Canadiens had expressed differing opinions on the style of play the Torontos employed, particularly when they were at home.

“The Toronto team, according to the Canadien players, are a dangerous outfit. Dangerous in more ways than one, for in their own city they play a brand of hockey not attempted by any other club in the league. Any other team who tried it would land up in jail. In Toronto, however, the blue shirts get away with it themselves, but woe to any other foreign player who attempts to retaliate. It is the bench at once, and the presence of a burly policeman behind the penalty box is a grim reminder that the jail awaits all unruly hockey players in Toronto – who do not belong to the home team.”

– The Montreal Star, December 29, 1917.

“Manager George Kennedy of the Canadiens has had his bluff called. George, the wise one, spread a lot of false reports when he returned to Montreal after his two beatings here. Kennedy told the Montreal newspaper men that the Torontos did not play hockey, but just cut his players down. Manager Querrie of the blue shirts has gone Kennedy one better, and wants the sporting scribes of Montreal and the Peasoup public at large to know that every team that visits Toronto is given a fair shake.

“Manager Querrie despatched the following letters to Montreal yesterday, and they speak for themselves:

“Mayor Martin, Montreal: Dear Sir, – On behalf of the Toronto Hockey Club, I wish to extend to you a cordial invitation to attend the Canadien-Toronto game at the Arena Gardens here on Monday, Jan. 28. Reports have been sent broadcast thru the medium of the Montreal press to the effect that the Canadien team has suffered from intimidation and interference from the police of this city, and we would be delighted to have you attend the fixture and see for yourself if this is true or otherwise

“We will reserve a box for yourself and party, and trust that you will be able to be in attendance.”

“George Kennedy, Montreal: Dear Sir, – As you have repeatedly made excuses for your club’s defeats at the hands of the Toronto hockey team at our Arena, claiming roughness and intimidation, we would advise you to extend an invitation to the sporting writers of Montreal to attend our next fixture here, on Monday, Jan. 28. We will place every facility within our power at their disposal to see for themselves how visiting teams are treated at the Arena. In view of the fact that you have claimed that your club has been defeated here by unfair tactics, this will be an excellent opportunity for you to show the Montreal scribes just how badly your team is treated in the Queen City.”

“Mr. F. Calder, President National Hockey League: Dear Sir, – Our club would be pleased if you would attend the game here on Monday, 28th January with the Canadiens.

“During the past few weeks Manager Kennedy of the Canadien Club has stated thru the press that his players are roughly used here, and also intimidated by the police.

“To judge for yourself, and in the best interests of hockey, we would be pleased to have you in attendance.”

– The Toronto World, January 25, 1918.

It’s unclear if Kennedy or Calder were in attendance on January 28. Toronto won the game, 5–1.

“All the goals were scored in the opening period. Toronto started off with a rush and in the first five minutes counted twice. When the period was finished Toronto had five goals to one for Canadiens. There was no further scoring.”

– The Globe, Toronto, January 29, 1918.

But the score of the game was not the biggest story that night.

2

“‘Bad’ Joe Hall of the Canadiens and Alf Skinner of the Toronto team are under arrest as the result of an assault and counter-assault which occurred in last night’s game between the two teams at the Arena. Toronto defeated the Canadiens by a score of 5 to 1 in a game in which there was an under-current of feelings that was responsible for many minor outbreaks throughout the contest. The collision which resulted in the arrest of the two players occurred shortly after the start of the final period. Skinner took the puck down the ice and was checked by Hall. He dropped to the ice and as he did made a pass with his stick at Hall, who was standing over him. Hall raised his stick and brought it down upon Skinner’s head and the latter was carried from the ice unconscious.

“Hall was immediately penalized and left the ice, holding his hand to his mouth, while blood stream down the side of his face. The police visited the dressing-room a few moments later and placed both men under arrest. They were later admitted to bail, and will appear in the Police Court to-day on a charge of disorderly conduct.”

– The Globe, Toronto, January 29, 1918.

“Both players were put under arrest by Plainclothesmen Ward and Scott and taken to No. 2 police station. Manager Querrie later bailed them out. The charge was common assault.”

– The Toronto World, January 29, 1918.

3

“Like a blessed peacemaker, more prone to pity than to punish, Squire Ellis to-day remanded for sentence Alfred Skinner and Joseph Hall, the two hockey players, members respectively of the Torontos and the Canadiens, who were arrested for disorderly conduct after the game at the Arena Gardens last night. ‘As the matter has apparently been settled to the satisfaction of all parties out of court, there will be no punishment here,’ remarked his Worship. The two erstwhile opponents who had whacked each other over the heads with hockey sticks in the heat of contest, smiled like brothers as they entered a plea of guilty. ‘They are the best of friends to-day,’ said their counsel, W. Hoskins, adding later that hockey games could not be played without a rap or two being given. Sergt. McKinney made an eloquent plea for clean sport. ‘Fracases like this are going to ruin sport,’ said he. ‘The public don’t want to see slugging matches.’ The sergeant further stated that Hall was the aggressor.

“Manager Querrie, who had been an attentive listener, informed the court that both men had already been fined $15 by the league. Apparently satisfied that they had been sufficiently punished, Squire Ellis forthwith bade them depart in peace, but not before he had said that the conduct of some hockey players was enough to disgust the public.”

– The Toronto Daily Star, January 29, 1918.

 

Evite

End of the Line for Hockey’s Cy Guy

On October 11, 1929, hockey fans reading their daily newspaper learned that Cy Denneny had announced his retirement the previous evening. Fans of long-ago hockey history still know Denneny’s name, but it’s not one that’s very familiar anymore. Still, this would have been pretty big news to the fans of the game 88 years ago today.

Clips
The second clipping here appeared in The Ottawa Journal.

Denneny began his pro career during the 1914-15 season of the National Hockey Association. He joined the Ottawa Senators in 1916-17, and remained with the team when it entered the NHL the following year. He finished up with Boston in 1928-29. Except for the fact that he won the Stanley Cup five times in his career (a pretty big difference!), Cy Denneny was sort of the Marcel Dionne of his day: a star player who was often overshadowed by someone else. Denneny led the NHL in scoring one time (in 1923-24), but finished second on five occasions and third and fourth one time each.

Like Dionne, Denneny didn’t really look like a hockey star. Dionne at 5-foot-9 was definitely small for a player in his day, while Denneny at 5-foot-7 was fairly typical for his time. Both were sort of pudgy, and I’d go so far as to say that photographs of Denneny are one reason why it’s hard for people to believe the calibre of hockey played in the 1910s and 1920s could possibly appeal to the fans of today…

Pics

You may be aware that the NHL has recently unveiled revised statistics put together during a six-year project to digitize old game sheets. This made news recently when it was announced that, among 6,000 bits of corrected information, Maurice Richard had now gained an extra assist among his career scoring totals.

When Cy Denneny retired in 1929, he did so as the NHL’s all-time leader in goals and points. But Denneny’s totals have also been revised. Instead of playing in 328 games over his 12 years in the league, he’s now credited with 329 games. However, he’s been downgraded to 247 goals instead of 248 … although he’s gained four assists, from 85 to 89, and now has 336 points instead of 333. (If you scroll down a bit when you get there, attempts to compare the numbers from his era to more modern stars put Denneny in some pretty good company.)

Cy Denneny, who was one of the first players to experiment with curving the blade of his stick, was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1959. A few months later he gave an interview to Tom Mitchell of The Canadian Press in which he compared the hockey of his time to the game as it was played in 1960. He thought the then current game was much more dangerous.

Int
From the Ottawa Journal, February 24, 1960.

“Today it’s the same as a crash between two high-powered cars when these boys meet,” said Dennney. “One or another has got to give.” Still, Denneny made it abundantly clear that the game was plenty rough in his time too. “You had to watch your head,” he said, “or it wouldn’t stay on very long.”

Many hockey players in Denneny’s time were lacrosse players too, and they tended to carry their sticks high. “One of the best lacrosse checks was to slam your stick down hard on the other fellow’s and try to jar the ball loose. The boys carried this into hockey and sometimes sticks came down on an arm.”

It wasn’t just his arms that took a beating. Denneny recalled that his hips were “black and blue after every game” and admitted that at the age of 68, he had a touch of arthritis in his left hip and leg and walked with a cane. He passed away at the age of 78 on September 10, 1970.

Toronto’s First NHL Game

The NHL opened a new season last night with games in four cities, including Toronto in Winnipeg where the Maple Leafs beat the Jets 7-2. After last season’s success, hopes are high in Toronto, where the home season begins on Saturday night against the New York Rangers.

One hundred years ago (albeit not until December 22, 1917), the first NHL game in Toronto was also played on a Saturday night. Three nights earlier, in Montreal on December 19, the Arenas (I won’t get into the name game again) had dropped the first game in NHL history 10-9 to the Wanderers.  High scores were not uncommon in this era, but 19 goals in a game was pretty unusual. Everyone in hockey knew that Toronto’s netminding tandem of Art Brooks and Sammy Hebert was nowhere near the quality of future Hall of Famers Georges Vezina of the Montreal Canadiens and Clint Benedict of the Ottawa Senators, nor even Bert Lindsay – the father of future Red Wings legend Ted Lindsay – of the Wanderers.

Ad Ad for Toronto’s NHL opener in The Globe on December 22, 1917.

It was generally agreed that the Wanderers had been outplayed in the Montreal game, but with Hebert surrendering five goals in the first period and Brooks five more over the final two, Toronto came out on the wrong end of the score. “Our most important need is a good goalkeeper,” said team manager Charlie Querrie in The Globe newspaper on the day of the home opener against the Ottawa Senators. The Globe provided a pretty scant preview of the game, but did report that Toronto’s net might be guarded that night by a well-known (but unnamed) local amateur. The Toronto World didn’t say much either, but also noted the goaltending would need to come up big.

World Pre-game coverage of Toronto’s NHL opener in The World on December 21 and 22, 1917.

The World also reported that a large crowd was likely for Toronto’s NHL opener. The Arena Gardens – aka the Mutual Street Arena – held about 7,500 at this time, but no story I’ve seen actually notes the attendance that night. Chances are it wasn’t a sellout … although the crowd must have been quite a bit larger than the 700 or so people estimated to have been at the Wanderers’ opener in Montreal.

Hockey fan or not, no one could really argue today that the best of the sport is played anywhere but in the NHL. That wasn’t necessarily the case in 1917. While the calibre of play in the NHL and its western professional rival, the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, was likely better than that of the top amateur leagues across the country, there were just so many amateur teams and leagues in Toronto and area that the audience was easily fragmented. And, really, the brand-new NHL wasn’t seen as anything special back in 1917. It was merely considered a continuation of the old National Hockey Association (which had operated since the winter of 1909-10) under a new name.

NHA Hockey fans in 1917 would have noted little difference between the NHA and the NHL.

But the biggest problem facing the NHL in its inaugural season was that the World had been at war since 1914. Many amateur sports leagues in Canada had shutdown for the duration, and even though pro hockey was thought to be good for morale on the home front, attendance was falling and teams were folding. By 1917, there were plenty of people wondering why some fit young men were being paid good money to play hockey at home while others were fighting and dying overseas. Indeed, on the day of the Toronto opener against Ottawa, a preview of the game in The Toronto Star shared space on the sports page with a report that former pro hockey player Eddie Roberts (the brother of future Hockey Hall of Famer Dr. Gordon Roberts, who was then starring with the PCHA’s Seattle Metropolitans) had recently been killed in action.

Star The death of Eddie Roberts is noted in Random Notes on Current Sports.

As for the opening game, Art Brooks surrendered the first goal to Ottawa, “but thereafter,” according to The Star, “the Torontos were always in control of the situation. They displayed superior speed, checked back better, were better individually, and their flashes of team play bewildered the Ottawa defense.” The result was an easy 11-4 victory.

“The much-discussed weakness expected in the Toronto nets was not in evidence,” The Star added. “Although four counters were registered against him, Brooks played a cool, collected game throughout.”

Habs
Lineup showing Georges Vezina in goal against Art Brooks. (Program courtesy Kevin Vautour.)

After a decent showing in the next game at home against the Canadiens, Brooks looked bad in a 9-2 loss back in Montreal and was replaced by Sammy Hebert in a 6-5 win in Ottawa on January 2. Two days later, Toronto’s goaltending problems were solved when the team was able to sign a future Hall of Fame netminder of their own: Harry “Hap” Holmes.

With Holmes in goal, Toronto went on to win the second half of the split-season NHL schedule and beat the first-half champion Canadiens in the playoffs to win the league title. They then defeated the PCHA’s Vancouver Millionaires to win the Stanley Cup.

One hundred years later, here’s hoping!

A Sneak Peek…

My new book, The Toronto Maple Leafs: The Complete Oral History, will be released one month from today. Invitations to launch parties in Toronto and Owen Sound will be sent out in October. Meantime, click on this link for a sneak preview.

If you won’t be able to make either of the launches in November, you can pre-order a copy now. (The link has details.) And here’s what some advanced readers have thought of the book:

Cover

Eric Zweig captures what the Toronto Maple Leafs have meant to many hockey fans since their inception. I had particular interest in the decades following their 1967 Stanley Cup victory, and Eric captures the ups and downs of the team for all fans of hockey. I particularly enjoyed reading of the present state of the Maple Leafs and how Eric has detailed the rebirth and future of this franchise.
– Scotty Bowman, Hockey Hall of Fame Builder and winningest coach in NHL history

… I am so delighted that my distant journalistic pal, Eric Zweig, has produced this magnificent, insightful, and all-encompassing oral history of the Leafs I so much loved. To put it simply — and historically — the moment I began turning these pages, I felt precisely the same thrill as when I heard Foster Hewitt shriek He Shoots! He Scores!! on a big Don Metz goal in that classic 1942 playoff comeback. Eric Zweig wrote — and he scored!
– Stan Fischler, hockey historian, broadcaster, and author

A standout hockey book of Leaf fortunes and foibles with a twist. Zweig calls on numerous chroniclers of Leaf history to make this one hum. Leaf Nation will love it.
– Brian McFarlane, bestselling author and former broadcaster

Eric Zweig has bled blue and white since he was seven years old. But this is far, far from just a fan’s book. When you combine the abject fan with a fine historian and a writer’s ear for grand storytelling, you end up with the book on the Toronto Maple Leafs, from past grandeur through years of debacle to today’s future promise. A wonderful read.
– Roy MacGregor, bestselling author and Globe and Mail columnist

Eric Zweig is acknowledged within the hockey community as one of its premier historians, and he unequivocally proves why he has few equals in his field with this outstanding history of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Eric leaves no stone unturned with his exhaustive research in this truly entertaining but equally important book.
– Kevin Shea, hockey historian and author

Not just another history of the Toronto Maple Leafs, but generational work by one of hockey’s premier historians, period. Supremely researched and presented, as one would expect of Eric Zweig.
– Howard Berger, former Leafs radio reporter and creator of BetweenThePosts.ca

The hundred-year history of the Toronto Maple Leafs is so rich in drama and event and personality — there are even some (long-ago) Stanley Cups in there, somewhere. Trust Eric Zweig to wrangle it all into such a full and compelling narrative, which he has done — just as the Leafs look like they’re ready to dominate again.
– Stephen Smith, author of Puckstruck: Distracted, Delighted and Distressed by Canada’s Hockey Obsession

A History of Sports and The National Anthem

How is it, I was asked yesterday in the wake of recent news, that the National Anthem got hooked up with sports in the first place?

Although I had been asked specifically about hockey when I first looked into this back in 2009, the best answer I could find indicated that the practice of playing the National Anthem at sports events began when The Star-Spangled Banner was played during the 1918 World Series. That seemed reasonable to me, given that Major League Baseball cut short the regular season that year due to World War I.

However, I also found that, in a story in the Toronto Star from May 4, 1917, the National Anthem (presumably God Save the King) had been played prior to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ opening game of the International League baseball season. No doubt World War I was the reason again, but clearly, while the World Series of 1918 must have garnered more attention in the United States, it couldn’t have been the first time. [NOTE: See this later story from the Boston Globe on October 25, 2017.]

Yesterday, I asked John Thorn, the Official Historian for Major League Baseball (who I’ve known since 1998 when Dan Diamond and Associates created Total Hockey for John’s Total Sports Publishing company) what he knew about the history of the National Anthem and baseball. As it says in the sub-title of the article he sent me, the story goes “back, back, back.”

It turns out that the connection goes all the way back to the time of the U.S. Civil War. It was the opening game of the Union Grounds ballpark in Brooklyn, New York, on May 15, 1862, and the band on hand for the festivities began the musical proceedings by playing The Star-Spangled Banner. I think both John and I are only speculating at a direct connection between the War and the playing of the National Anthem that day, but it certainly makes sense.

Brooklyn
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 16, 1862. Page 2.

I wrote about God Save the King being played prior to a game in 1910 in my very first book, the novel Hockey Night in the Dominion of Canada. The book was published 25 years ago and I honestly can’t remember anymore if I’d come across any evidence of this having actually happened at the time. (The book was fiction, after all!) However, the National Anthem was most definitely played prior to the opening home game of the Ottawa Senators early in the second NHL season of 1918-19.

This game between Ottawa and the defending Stanley Cup champions from Toronto was played on December 26, 1918, just a few weeks after the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I. Prior to the War, previous Governors-General had often attended games in the Canadian capital, but with the Duke of Devonshire in attendance that night, it marked the first time since before the war that, as newspapers put it, “the hockey season was ushered in under vice-regal patronage.” When the Duke and his party arrived shortly before the start of the game, the Governor-General’s Foot Guard “played the National Anthem and every person within the big rink stood up.”

Ottawa
This article appeared in the Vancouver World on December 27, 1918.

But when did the National Anthem become a regular occurrence at sports event? Apparently, it wasn’t until 1924 in Paris that National Anthems were played for every winner at the Olympics. John Thorn’s story mentions that although some Major League Baseball teams had begun playing the National Anthem before games in 1941, which was prior to the U.S. entering World War II, it became universal in baseball in 1942 after American  involvement. I haven’t looked into the National Anthem and football, but it seems reasonable to believe the practice started in the NFL around the same time.

As for hockey, it’s been said that the tradition of playing the National Anthem prior to games began around 1930. This picture of the Boston Bruins and Montreal Maroons at the Boston Garden may well have been taken during the NHL playoffs in 1930. It’s often said to be an early example of the “new” trend.

Boston

Certainly the practice seems to have been common enough that no special reason was needed when this article appeared in the Montreal Gazette on January 12, 1931:

Montreal

Still, there’s reason to believe that, even if it wasn’t continuous from 1918, the link between National Anthems and the National Hockey League dates back to at least the mid 1920s, and perhaps before that. When the first NHL game was played in Madison Square Garden between the New York Americans and the Montreal Canadiens on December 15, 1925, bands played both The Star-Spangled Banner and God Save the King prior to the opening face-off.

In the PhD thesis that would become the basis of his book Joining the Clubs: The Business of the National Hockey League to 1945, my friend and colleague Andrew Ross notes that Tex Rickard and John Hammond (who ran the Garden, and soon the New York Rangers as well) “maintained the Canadian tradition of playing the national anthems before every game, not just restricting them to special occasions.” This practice, says Andrew, “continued thereafter and spread from the Garden to other cities and other sports.”

Andrew quotes Hammond from an article in the New York World-Telegram in December of 1934 as saying that The Star-Spangled Banner had been played before all hockey games at Madison Square Garden since the very first. “The Canadian anthem has always been associated with hockey there,” Hammond said, “and I think we should pay our anthem the same tribute.”

So even if baseball started it, it looks like it was hockey that made the National Anthem a regular part of going to a game.